|WASPS DEAL RAISES QUESTIONS
(Friday 20th May 2005)
It appears that the announcement of the extended deal for London Wasps at Adams Park has raised at least as many questions as there were answers in the various press statements.
Both Wanderers and London Wasps have hidden behind the confidentiality curtain when asked to elaborate on the deal and officers of both the Wycombe Wanderers Founders' Trust and Supporters' Trust have expressed their disappointment in the communication process. Supporters' Trust Chairman Francis Glenister commented “The press release is long on enthusiasm but frustratingly short on details. We are told that the lack of detail is due to commercial confidentiality and the need to reach final agreement on certain aspect."
Meanwhile, Founders' Trust Chairman, David McGee, added “For a number of weeks the Founders' Trust has been in discussions with the Club over this issue. First and foremost we are delighted there is to be no sale of our assets. We would, however, very much like to see the Club releasing information to Supporters explaining the financial benefits of this deal in detail.”
As revealed in earlier reports on chairboys.co.uk, the new deal is understood to be for a two year period and on the same terms as the previous three years. This brings in an estimated £300,000 per season rent to the Wanderers but the Football Club has to cover costs of ground maintenance, stewarding, matchday staffing and other expenses associated with temporarily switching the ground between football and rugby use. These are then offset by variables such as catering income, bar takings and the impact on Wanderers own support. It's provided a vast unknown where critics of the deal have cited that Wanderers gates at Adams Park during the period of Wasps tenancy after dropped in the order of 1,000 per game and should not be ignored when discussing whether any further deal is sufficiently beneficial to the Football Club to warrant what is understood to be a pencilled in 22 year agreement dependent on stepped increases in the capacity of Adams Park.
Founders' Trust plc Board rep. Ian Mather has said that it has taken considerable effort to develop and agree a deal that is beneficial to both clubs and added in a statement to chairboys.co.uk, "The restriction placed on the Football Club, in terms of communicating information to supporters and Trust Members, was and continues to be frustrating, particularly when other parties seem to have little regard for such agreements. However, now that at least a short term agreement is in place, every effort will be made by both Club Boards to secure a long term agreement as soon as possible which, undoubtedly, will help to build a brighter, bigger and better future for Wycombe Wanderers.”
They are views shared by Supporters' Trust plc Board rep. Keith Blagborough, who commented to chairboys.co.uk, "In entering into negotiations when both sides sign a binding agreement on confidentiality it is extremely annoying that this is kept by one side only. Both parties need to work together to come to a long term beneficial agreement. I do believe that one can be reached which will be to the benefit of the Football Club and its supporters. However, this can only be done in an atmosphere of trust which is put at risk if one party constantly breaks agreements."
All this points to Wanderers and Wasps fans being kept in the dark for a good while longer yet. Chairboys.co.uk understands that a major reason for keeping tight lipped was the fear that London Wasps' previous landlords, QPR, would open up major compensation claims for the eight years remaining on the Loftus Road deal. However, that contract now appears to be severed, with Rangers Chairman Bill Power commenting to QPR World "It was time to resolve all the issues and we were able to do that." Power claims that the settlement was for a 'substantial' amount of money and involved London Wasps Chairman Chris Wright relinquishing his shares in QPR as a 'gift' to the Rangers Chairman. Power added ""Half of the money comes back to the Club from Wasps as a buy out of the ground share agreement and the other half is a gift from Chris Wright." However, Power did not rule out a return for Wasps to QPR at some point in the future, saying "I would be very happy for them to come back and share the ground with us, they were great people to have there. Hopefully we can do an agreement later, if not it now means we can speak to other clubs."
The longer term deal eulogised by the officials of both Wasps and Wycombe appears to be entirely reliant on planning permission being granted for a capacity close to three times the orginal 6,000 figure set by the Department of the Environment in 1988. The difference this time around seems that the local Council are well onside having seen the financial benefits to the Town of having a high profile Rugby Club in your back garden.
Speaking at the press conference which confirmed the deal on 12th May 2005, London Wasps' Chief Executive David Davies commented "The League rules stipulate that by season 2007/8 we have got to reach 12,000 and then three years after that we have got to reach 15,000. So for us to remain at the ground we need to improve it and upgrade the facilities that are there. The only occasion that I can see us moving is that outright permission has been rejected and there was no route of appeal. At this moment in time we believe there is ample opportunity for the ground to be developed and meet those landmarks." However, Davies recognised that the process would not be easy and that discussions with local residents and stakeholders would be inevitable, saying "We are aware that the stadium is built in an area of outstanding natural beauty and could be resistant to any change." He added "However, we believe the Home Counties is going to be fertile ground for us."
The danger for Wasps, with their links with QPR now severed, is that they have may have fought their way down a blind alley. the plans seem to hinge on the capacity of the ground being increased to a figure that Wanderers are unlikely to ever need on a regular basis. Initially this will mean battling with the planning process to lift the 10,000 obligated restriction on the capacity to the 11,000 physical capacity. If this is achieved then the next step would be to apply for permission on a structure thought to be a mirror image of the Woodlands Stand. The funding of such a project could run to several £m although it's possible that both clubs could seek grants to partly cover costs. However, if it all goes wrong the RFU could be reluctant to see a Club continually move grounds unless they could guarantee primacy of tenure. But Davies concluded "The arrangements we are putting in place will hopefully see both club's working together to maximise the ground both on matchdays and non-matchdays."
Maximising revenue will also be a key factor for both Clubs. Wasps reported losses of around £1.7m in their first season at Adams Park where they dropped admission charges to attract support. Regular price increases since their debut in High Wycombe have seen those annual losses fall to an estimated £700,000 for the 2003/4 season and probably less for the yet to be reported 2004/5 season. However, the cost to a casual matchday observer for a Premiership rugby game for the 2005/6 season will now be up to £40 for the privilege to sit in the centre of the Woodlands Stand. Terrace places too have escalated with the £6 charged in 2002/3 now inflated to £18. The Wasps financial experts will be hoping that they have got their figures right. Meanwhile, Wanderers finances are also somewhat of an unknown following the conversion to a plc in the summer of 2004 but General Manager John Harrison again stressed a preference for an extended agreement, commenting "Incremental financial benefits to Wycombe Wanderers will be realised when we enter into the longer term arrangement. Those benefits will come both in terms of financial remuneration for the leasing arrangement and benefits gained from the improved stadium facilities."
As ever, more to follow on chairboys.co.uk
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